Purple Pig

  • Restaurants
  • Contemporary American
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Magnificent Mile

The fanatics of Chicago have been tweeting about the Purple Pig since the day it opened, and so far there hasn’t been a critical word among them. Instead, chefs and restaurateurs and food writers have typed happy missives about a certain small plate or a glass of wine or about Jimmy Bannos, the Santa Clausish partner who works the dining room here while his son expedites the food. (I admit that last tweet was mine.)

The fanatics of Chicago have been tweeting about the Purple Pig since the day it opened, and so far there hasn’t been a critical word among them. Instead, chefs and restaurateurs and food writers have typed happy missives about a certain small plate or a glass of wine or about Jimmy Bannos, the Santa Clausish partner who works the dining room here while his son expedites the food. (I admit that last tweet was mine.)

Looking at who’s been tweeting, a guy starts to wonder if there’s a single diner in the place who isn’t in the restaurant industry. And, actually, as far as I can tell, that’s half correct. But thinking of the place as a restaurant’s restaurant isn’t quite right. The location, in the back of an office building on the Mag Mile, is too everyman to serve only the upper reaches of the food class. That’s what’s so brilliant about the place—it has single-handedly turned a restaurant dead zone into the unlikeliest food destination of 2010. And it’s done so with a menu that is expansive enough to not scare off tourists and cheap enough for college students to try. If you can think of another restaurant that’s opened in the past five years that’s this democratic…well, I won’t even finish that sentence, because you can’t.

So there are grandmas from Idaho in the Purple Pig, and 17-year-old bloggers, and politicians, and lots and lots of publicists. Together, they create quite a crowd. But you don’t have to share the Pig with these people (better known as THE people, other than the politicians) if you don’t want to. You can go for a late lunch (1:45pm, let’s say). By the time you’re on dessert you’ll practically have the place to yourself. It’ll be delicious. And fantastically boring.

To really understand the allure of the Pig, you have to go at night. Ideally Friday night, 8 or 9pm. You can try to make a reservation (though it barely takes any), but I’d just show up and make peace with the fact that there’s going to be a wait at the bar. The name of this place is a reference to an imaginary symptom of inebriated swine—are you really going to limit yourself to two glasses? That’s not the spirit of this place at all. You’re supposed to drink enough that you feel comfortable chatting up the complete strangers sitting next to you. And then drink some more, until you start taking bites of their food. The food was built for this. It’s easy to steal. Goat-cheese-and-squash arancini come five to an order, and they’re in an earthy sage pesto that’s so good most people have to close their eyes for a second while they savor it. That’s when you swoop in and take one. Same goes for the mortadella smear—it’s been turned into a mousse that can only be described as porky, and it’s rich enough that nobody will mind when you reach over and grab one. (Actually, they’d probably mind if they were sober, but it’s, what, 10pm now? Nobody’s sober in here, trust me.)

Other foods will require a fork: the shaved brussels sprouts, tossed in perky pecorino and lemon juice. The milk-braised pork shoulder, almost as tender and quick to melt as the creamy mashed potatoes it arrives with. The salty brandade, shimmering with olive oil.

The genius deep-fried deviled egg? You could pop that into your mouth all at once, I guess. But it’s better to cut it with a fork and knife and eat it quickly, catching as much of the warm yolk as you can. Cheese? They give you so much here you’ll be begging your neighbors to take it off your hands. Dessert? Don’t even dream of sharing it. There’s a hot brioche stuffed with ricotta and chocolate. There’s a thick, silky butterscotch pudding. And there’s soft serve both flavored and drizzled with olive oil, a dish that justifies getting soft serve somewhere other than a Dairy Queen. If you share these things with complete strangers, you’re an idiot. Then again, if you don’t, you’re not really eating at the Purple Pig.

By David Tamarkin. Photographs by Martha Williams.

Venue name: Purple Pig
Contact:
Address: 500 N Michigan Ave
Chicago

Cross street: between Illinois St and Grand Ave
Opening hours: Lunch, dinner
Transport: El stop:Red to Grand. Bus:3,65,145,146,147,151,157.
Price: Average small plate: $7
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